by Lucinda A. Brockway, Past Designs
The landscape history at the Durant-Kenrick House is a long and important story. It is important for its individual details that record its part in the transformation of Newton from a rural village near Boston to a major metropolitan suburb. Its greatest significance, however, is the story of its nursery from 1790-1850 (and later), that linked this land not only to the most learned of Boston horticulturists, but to the horticulturists and hybridizers in major European centers. Through this nursery came some of the most popular fruit on the market today - Buerre Bosc and Bon Cretien pears, Noblesse and Early Rareripe peaches, Antwerp raspberries, Royal Muscadine grapes, Duke of Kent strawberries - their very names bespeak their origins. Here William Kenrick propagated the fruits of his horticultural connections with Belgian pear hybridizer Dr. Van Mons and with Thomas Andrew Knight, President of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1811 to 1838 and their horticulturalists at Chiswick. At the forefront of horticultural interests, William Kenrick rode the wave of the mulberry mania and crashed mightily with the best of them, losing much of his own nursery acreage in the process.
Today the remains of the nursery and their horticultural offerings tower over the residential subdivisions that swept through the property as the next generation of Newtonians sought their fortunes in Boston and its surrounds. Aging copper beeches, oaks and other ornamentals still stand testament to the Kenrick Nursery. The sweeping hillsides of the Newton Country Club offer landscape site and setting that has remained open space since the seventeenth century. Kenrick Park and its intertwined network of roads sit at the heart of William Kenrick's nursery, developed as an important mid 19th century rural subdivision when his nursery was lost in the mulberry market.
Today barely two acres remain with the Durant Kenrick house, yet this small parcel is linked to the larger neighborhood where the larger landscape themes are just as evident. Collectively, this property and neighborhood provide a rare and unique opportunity to interpret many themes of Newton History: architecture, historic preservation, Colonial and Colonial Revival, horticultural history, landscape history, and the history of its people.
There are little or no remains of other important early 19th century nurseries in the Northeast. The Price Nursery story (Long Island NY) is best told through a collection of glass lantern slides and horticultural catalogs. The Manning Nursery story (Salem MA) is revealed through the archives of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Yet it is this industry that marked the creation of both the horticultural and agricultural movements of the nineteenth century, and served as the infancy of such major institutions as the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and the Arnold Arboretum. This brief history captures only the major themes of this story, in hopes that it will excite and inspire a much larger study whose details will weave the fabric of future interpretive program at the property.
Native American History and Settlement before 1732
One major theme associated with the history of this property is the story of its contact and settlement by members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Here, John Eliot created one of his many Praying Indian villages - villages centered on the missionary work of Eliot as he tried to convert New England Native American communities to Christianity. The politics of colonization, settlement and land ownership are themes woven throughout Nathaniel Philbrick's popular new publication Mayflower, and other recently published works on John Winthrop.
Eliot's followers served as respected interpreters between the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonists and the Native American tribes that populated this region in the seventeenth century. Their political savvy, and in some cases their personal agendas, shaped the many stages between peace and war throughout this tumultuous era.
In the late 19th century a small stone balustrade and monument was erected here as a memorial to John Eliot.1 Today the monument sits at the intersection of Eliot Memorial Road and Magnolia Streets - land which had been part of the Durant Kenrick property until the late 19th century.
As yet we do not know the extent of open space and woodland that characterized the Native settlements here in Newton. Much of the land at the time of colonial settlement was carefully managed by these populations to maximize their potential yields for hunting, agriculture and fishing. Spring burns eliminated the dry leaves and debris under the oaks, chestnuts and hickories which dominated the southern New England forests. The herbaceous vegetation which emerged after the burns offered attractive habitat for small mammals, fowl, deer and other herbivores. Seasonal agricultural camps occupied some of the most fertile soils, producing corn, beans and squashes for both summer and winter subsistence.
Instead of coming to a wilderness, this was a carefully manipulated landscape, managed by generations of Native Americans, by the time the colonists arrived. Disease had eliminated more than half of the Native American populations, offering ample opportunity for new settlers to move into the region and reorganize the landscape according to their own purposes. By the time Edward Durant purchased the property in 1732, the region had experienced two wars with the Native Americans, and almost one hundred years of European settlement and occupation.
Durant Family Era, 1732-1790
Edward Durant II The Durant Family era is a landscape history rich in the textures of settlement, farming, and agriculture. In 1732, Edward Durant II, purchased 91 acres of land on the south slope of Nonantum Hill and the vale at the base of the hill (south side) "with a dwelling house and barn thereon." Between 1732 and 1740, just prior to Edward Durant's death, the present house was built.2 In addition to this large parcel, Durant purchased a second parcel of woodland elsewhere in Newton. With wood and wood products serving as the most important cash crop of the era, it is no wonder that Durant invested in this land. It is estimated that one household used fifteen cords of word per year for their cooking and heating. To build one modest house required at least twelve tons of wood.3 It is no wonder that by the early 19th century most of New England was 90% open space.
When Edward Durant II died in 1740, his son, Edward Durant III inherited the property, now totaling approximately 97 acres with a "dwelling house and out housing and barns." In addition to the 97 acre parcel, Durant owned "twelve acres of wood land lying remote" and "about one acre of Salt Marsh in Cambridge," "a right of land in a new township called New Boston," "a farm at Worcester with house and barn and about 130 acres of land," a "dwelling house at Boston that Mr. Green lives in with a garden and small pasture adjoining and with a barn thereon," and "a dwelling house in Boston with two tenements" and "another house in Boston." The household inventory included a pair of oxen, five cows, four heifers, one bull, one calf, two horses, two swine, and crops of rye, barley, Indian corn, and English hay, presumably from the Newton property.4 Clearly, the Durants were well invested and well financed compared to their neighboring farmers. Here Durant could have income from both his own farm and his investment properties. This connection between our property and social or financial connections to Boston continued through the Durant tenure and into the Kenrick eras - a connection that served the property well, financially, physically and socially.
Edward Durant III Edward III married twice and bore ten children on this property between 1736 and 1760. At the time of his death in 1782, his property was described with "about sixty one acres of land lying in ... Newton with a Mansion House and Two barns thereon." Like his father, Durant owned one pair of oxen, two cows, one steer, two bulls, one horse, and four sheep with their lambs. Taken in May, the inventory did not include any stored crops, but does reference English Hay, Indian corn, a cider mill, and cider barrels, (indicating the presence of apple orchard). In the setting aside of land and dower rights for Durant's widow, the probate documents reference an old orchard (5 acres), watering cattle at a spring "near the easterly corner of said land," and the right to pass and re-pass to the well on the property. Adjacent to this 61-acre parcel, Durant's widow received another parcel of nineteen acres with use of certain rooms in the main house.5
Transition: 1782-1790 Between 1782 and 1790, the property underwent several ownership transactions. Finally, William Fisher sold the property to John Kenrick. In the 1790 deed the property is described as "a certain tract of land or parcel of land lying in Newton consisting of mowing, tillage and pasturage and contains by estimation about seventy five acres. Together with the Mantion [sic] House and Barn standing thereon, being a part of the Farm which formerly belonged to Edward Durant late of Newton." To the east, Cornelius Durant and William Foster, and Solomon Robbins were his neighbors. To the north sat William Foster, Cornelius Durant, John Jackson and the town way. To the west sat the town way and land of Thomas Curtis; and to the south were the lands of Thomas Curtis, Job Hide and Nathaniel Norcross.6 Nearby, Kenrick's ancestor, John Kenrick, had acquired the southeastern slope of Nonantum Hill in 1658, which continued to remain in the family.7
Summary: Durant Family The Durant family was primarily a working farm that supported two generations of Durant family members who not only owned this parcel, but several parcels of land in greater Boston. By 1790 the property included the main house, at least two barns, and hay fields, cultivated fields (corn, rye, barley are mentioned), pasture and apple orchard. Besides the lot currently associated with the house, the Durant farm extended down the south side of Nonantum Hill and through the "Vale" where the golf course is now located. The Kenrick family had settled on the southeastern slope of Nonantum Hill - a neighbor of the Durant farmstead. Throughout the era, the land straddled the political boundaries of both Newton and Brighton. The south side of Nonantum Hill is an important climatic consideration. Here, in the lee of the cold Northern winds, the house could be protected and the southern slopes of the hill were quicker to warm in the spring - a preference for seasonal crop production.
John Kenrick Era 1790-1833
Land Acquisition In 1790, John Kenrick purchased 75 acres of the Durant farm, with the house and at least one barn. In 1791, John Kenrick Jr. purchased another 18 acre parcel of pasture land from William Fisher, adjacent to the first land purchase. Both parcels were referenced as part of the "Durant Farm." This parcel was bounded "easterly by the land of John Rogers and William Foster, southerly and westerly by Kenrick land, and northerly on a town way."8 In 1793, Cornelius Durant (now of the West Indies), sold Kenrick his parcel of 18 acres of pasture land "being part of the dower which was set off to my Honored Mother the Widow of Capt. Edward Durant, late of said Newton." This lot was bounded Easterly by land of William Foster, Southerly on land of Kenrick, Westerly partly of a town way and partly on lands of the late John Jackson, and northerly partly on land owned by Jackson heirs and partly on a town way." It is hard to determine the exact boundaries of these purchases with our limited time for research, but a more thorough study of deed and land parcels in this area would reveal the exact extent of both the Durant farm and the early Kenrick lands. It is clear, however, that collectively, Kenrick purchased the entire southeastern slope of Nonantum Hill, 111 acres of Durant land plus any rights to the other Kenrick family property.
Kenrick Nursery Begins Shortly after Kenrick purchased the property he established a nursery on the southwestern slope of Nonantum Hill. Whether this fledgling nursery was on land currently associated with the Durant Kenrick house, or on his family homestead next door, we cannot say. (If the Durant property occupied the southeastern slopes of the hill, then perhaps this early nursery was on Kenrick family land which had occupied this southwestern vantage.)
The nursery, which began as a small private operation, became a commercial venture in 1794, and expanded to cover most of the top and southern slopes of Nonantum Hill, including land in both Newton and nearly Brighton. Historian William Marchione writes that Kenrick's nursery began when "he laid out several rows of peach stones on his estate on the southwestern slope of Nonantum Hill in Newton. So successful were his early experiments in pomology, that in 1794 he founded a commercial nursery, offering the buying public as many varieties of fruit bearing trees and bushes as were then available in the Boston area."9 Peaches, which are tender in the Boston climate, would have required the protection and situation of the southern slopes to do well.
At the time, the largest and best known American nursery was that of the Prince family, on Long Island (1771-1850). In 1841, this nursery offered for sale 272 varieties of apples, 420 varieties of pears, 109 of cherries, 156 of plums, 116 of grapes, 147 of gooseberries, currants and other berry fruits, 196 species of ornamental shrubs, 111 evergreens, 196 varieties of deciduous trees, 73 of vines, 680 of roses, and over 800 perennials.10 Certainly the Kenrick Nurseries never grew to this size, but they certainly rivaled the Prince Nurseries for quality and variety of new fruit stock, and were considered the largest nursery operation in New England in the 1830's. Hedrick writes, "After the Prince Nursery, by far the largest and best American establishment of the kind on the continent, was that of the Kenricks, in the towns of Brighton and Newton, Massachusetts, the first large nursery in New England."11
In the introduction for the Kenrick Nursery catalog for 1831, the author (presumably William or John Kenrick) writes: " this establishment, now without doubt, the oldest of note in New England, was commenced about thirty five years ago by the elder Kenrick; at first, with no other motive that the ornament and improvement of a portion of his own lands; and it may be here remarked that while some similar establishments have since arisen, lived their day, and gone down, this has been sustained with increasing reputation and patronage; - having ever been conducted on those undeviating principles of accuracy, of honor, and of rectitude, which can alone insure success and confidence."12
In 1797, Kenrick added ornamental trees to his stock, including two acres of Lombardy poplars, the most popular street tree in Boston in the late 18th century.13 Hedrick writes that "so many were sold by this nursery that it was said that nearly every family owning land in New England in the first years of the new century planted one or more poplars grown by John Kenrick."14 The technique of budding (inoculating) fruit stock to ensure exact reproduction of a particular cultivar, allowed the nursery to offer named varieties of many kinds of fruit for sale. According to historian Ulysses Hedrick, the named peach varieties offered at the Kenrick Nursery may have been the first on the American market.15
In 1823, John Kendrick's son William became a partner in the family nursery business. This same year, the New England Farmer, the leading agricultural newspaper of the day, described the Kenrick Nursery as "the finest in America."16 In their advertisement for the New England Farmer in 1823, the Kenrick Nursery offered 30 varieties of budded peaches, 10 varieties of European grapes, more than 4 varieties of American grapes, currants, horse chestnuts, catalpa, mountain ash, rose, lilac, and a few others.17 Throughout the 1820's the nursery expanded to include an extensive variety of fruit and ornamental trees. An extensive portion of the nursery was devoted to the production of currants, from which Kenrick produced large quantities of wine - 1700 gallons in 1824, 3000 gallons in 1825 and some 3600 gallons in 1826.18
In 1829 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society was founded, out of an earlier organization known as the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture (1792).19 Here again, the Kenricks, particularly William Kenrick, was a founding member - evidence of his larger role in New England horticultural circles. William Kenrick served on the Horticultural Society's governing council from 1829 to 1841, and was a longtime leading member of its Standing Committee on Fruit Trees and Fruit.20
The Horticultural Society opened many business relationships for the Kenrick Nursery, particularly with publisher and seedsman George C. Barrett. Barrett was a publisher of horticultural and agricultural books and journals, including the popular New England Farmer, and the many editions of William Kenrick's two books. Barrett was also the owner of a large agricultural warehouse and store located at 51 No. Market Street in Boston. Barrett served as an agent for the Kenrick Nursery, and would accept plant orders through his store for the Nursery. In the advertisements at the end of the American Silk Grower's Guide, (1935 edition) Barrett includes a seed list of plants available from his agricultural warehouse and store in Boston. In his advertisement for the New England Farmer he writes that the journal is "a paper devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture, and Rural Economy. It is conducted by Thomas G. Fessenden, assisted by a number of agricultural writers and the observations of many of the best practical cultivators in New England; and published by Geo. C. Barrett." He notes that the paper is also the vehicle for publishing the results of discoveries and improvements of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Published every Wednesday for $3.00 per annum."21
Clearly Kenrick's relationship with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and with Barrett, offered the nursery a unique outlet for sale of their plants. Barrett's mixed business enterprises allowed for the acquisition, sale and advertising of plants, books and journals to a wide regional and national audience - something that the Kenrick Nursery could take advantage of in promoting their business and William Kenrick's publications. It is no wonder that his publications went through eight editions between 1833 and 1846, and that the success of the nursery sales grew significantly throughout the 1820's and 1830's.
Robert Manning, who Kenrick clearly considered a close colleague, (they traveled to Europe together in search of some of the new fruit varieties), established his own family nursery, the 'Pomological Garden,' in 1823 in Salem, MA. Here Manning was interested in collecting Massachusetts-hardy fruits. In time, his collection included more than 2,000 varieties of hardy fruits, of which more than 1,000 were pears. Like Kenrick, Manning was one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1829.
In 1832, William established a second nursery, adjoining his father's nursery, on the western slope of Nonantum Hill.22 This year, in addition to 148 varieties of apples, 155 varieties of pears, 99 varieties of peaches, 48 varieties of cherries, and 47 varieties of plums, Kenrick offered numerous ornamental trees and shrubs, roses, and herbaceous perennials. By 1838, the diversity of his fruit collection had risen substantially, to 228 varieties of apples, and 317 varieties of pears.23 Later 19th century records show that William's Nursery probably occupied much of the earlier Durant farm, and William's own house was located near the top of Nonantum Hill on land later acquired by J.S. Farlow.
In 1833, John Kenrick died. In his will he leaves his property to his seven children, and bequeaths his nursery business to William (1789-1872). His youngest son, John A. Kenrick, inherits the family homestead. At this time (1833) William is supposed to have assumed management of both nurseries, which became known as the Kenrick Family Nurseries (though the name fluctuates in printed materials). Kenrick's real estate at the time of his death totaled only 39 acres - land which was divided into several small pieces, one adjoining the other: a parcel of 4 acres, a parcel of 3 acres, a parcel of 15 acres, a parcel of 15 acres, in addition to a piece of salt marsh (3/4 acre) in Brighton, an estate at Bunker Hill, an estate on Prince Street in Boston, an estate on Bedford Street in Boston, and estate on South Oak Street [illegible] Boston, and a claim on an estate on Somerset, Boston. These individual parcels of land may have been part of separate real estate investments, or part of his larger land holdings. All of the Newton parcels are bounded on one side by land of the Kenrick estate or by land of William Kenrick - probably land sold or deeded prior to Kenrick's death which formed the bulk of the Kenrick Nursery.
In addition to his real estate, Kenrick's personal estate included a pair of oxen, a pair of steer, a roan horse, a lappis horn cow, a white headed cow, one red cow, one small red cow, one old red cow, one yellow heifer and calf, one brindle heifer, two hogs, fifty four sheep, ten fowle and doves, and farm crops that are referenced as : "six sheep skins, hay on hand, roots in the barn cellar, roots in the house cellar, 10 bushels of corn, twenty bushels of barley, two bushels of peas, four bushels of salt, cider and casks in the middle cellar, cider and casks in the south cellar, three casks cider in the north cellar, casks of prepared cider, three casks of cider, 2 casks of vinegar, wine and casks, bottles of wine, barrels of soap, barrels of pork, cheese, coffee, and oak, walnut & chestnut timber and sawed wood."24
As with his horticultural pursuits, Kenrick was clearly interested in diversifying his livestock herd. The specific references to brindle, red, yellow and other cattle are probably an indication of the hybridization programs for livestock encouraged by the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture in the late 18th and early 19th century. By the time of his death, his nursery business must have been legally transferred to William, since there is no mention of orchards, nursery land, stores of seeds, or other goods and hardware necessary for the nursery business.
Kenrick Nursery, 1830-1850 As for the nursery business, the remainder of the Kenrick land (70 acres or more) was kept out of his personal estate inventory - undoubtedly deeded prior to his passing. It is interesting that the transfer of ownership was easier than the consolidation of Nursery name recognition. There is a continual fluctuation between names on the Nursery catalogs, though the format and content of the catalog continues with little change or arrangement from 1828 to 1842 when a larger format catalog was produced. In the collection of catalogs which remain at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Library, we can trace not only the confused identity (or consolidation) of the nursery, but also the increasing selection of plants available for sale, and the growing interest of its owners in particular plant lines. Because the format of the catalogs, including the arrangement of their plant listings and the types of plants offered does not vary, it seems that the catalogs are advertising the same nursery operation, though the name in the title of the catalog varies from one year to another.
The following is a list of available nursery catalogs in the Horticultural Society Library, with their advertised nursery name:
- 1828: Catalog believed to be from the Kenrick Nurseries, but only a partial listing, beginning on page 195. Cover page is lost. Includes seed list of annuals and perennials. Fruit list is included on the back cover.
- 1831: Annual Catalogue of Fruit and Hardy Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, &c. cultivated and for sale at the Kenrick Nurseries, in Newton , Near Boston, 1831. A Liberal Discount from the Retail prices on every kind of trees, will be made by the hundred. Boston: printed by I.R. Butts. This catalog includes 37 varieties of Apples, 26 var. of Pears (old and famous sorts), 19 var. of Pears (new sorts rec'd of Hon. John Lowell and Gorham Parsons Esq. sent by Mr. Knight) - most with only 1 year of growth; 70 var. of peaches, 29 var. cherries, 19 var. plums, 11 var. apricots, 5 var. nectarines, 4 var. almonds, 6 var. quince, 2 var. figs, 4 var. mulberries, 13 var. raspberries, 25 var. currants, 10 var. strawberries, 50 var. gooseberries, 10 var. grapes, 10 var. chestnuts, walnuts and filberts, 6 var. miscellaneous fruits (medlar, persimmon, berberry), 68 var. of ornamental forest trees esteemed for fruit, foliage or flowers of largest and middling growth, 109 var. hardy ornamental forest trees esteemed for their fruit, foliage and flowers, of small or shrub growth; 14 var. honeysuckles and azaleas, 26 var. vines and climbers for covering walls and arbors, 58 var. roses, white thorn quicks for hedges, three thorned acadia for hedges, American or common hawthorn, Asparagus roots, Rhubarb or Pie Plant, Hardy herbaceous or greenhouse plants.
- 1832: Catalog in same format as 1831 catalog but entitled Nursery of John A. Kenrick. This catalog lists almost same fruits and forest trees, azaleas, honeysuckles, vines, etc. but includes huge number of roses (213 varieties) 17 var. of dahlias, 66 var. herbaceous perennial flowering plants, 18 var. of Chinese chrysanthemums, and 26 var. peonies.
- 1833 : Catalog in same format as 1831 but entitled Nursery of William Kenrick - larger perennial selection, same fruits, trees, etc. as in 1832
- 1838 & 1839: Nursery of William Kenrick at Nonantum Hill in Newton, near Boston. This catalog is an "abridgement of the Annual Catalogue of Fruit and Hardy Ornamental Trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants &c. which are there cultivated and for sale. With an appendix on the culture of silk." Includes more roses (254 varieties) and a list of new pears, "mostly Flemish to be for sale in the autumn of 1839," also new apples, peaches, plums and grapes
- 1841: Annual Catalogue for 1841 of Fruit and Hardy Ornamental Trees, Flowering Shrubs, Herbaceous Plants, etc. etc. at the Nursery of John A. Kenrick, Nonantum Dale in Newton Near Boston, Same format as the earlier catalogs, though it doesn't list the collection of dahlias and herbaceous plants in detail like the 1832-33 catalogue, it merely refers to these plants being for sale.
- 1842, 1843, 1844, 1845: Descriptive Catalogue Nursery of William Kenrick, Nonantum Hill, in Newton (near Boston). The Abridged Descriptive Catalogue of Fruit and Hardy Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Roses, Herbaceous Plants &c. which are there cultivated and for sale for the Year 1842.[the year was changed for each later edition]. These catalogs switched to a new, larger format.
- 1844: Auction Descriptive Catalogue of French, English and American Standard Fruit Trees of Superior Kinds, Grape Vines, Roses, Ornamental trees, &c. from the Nursery of William Kenrick to be sold at Auction, on Friday April 12th 1844 at George Nichols Office, Washington Street, Salem. Sale to commence at nine o'clock. This auction broadside lists the number of trees in each variety offered for auction.
- 1847: Broadside format, for Nursery of William Kenrick, Nonantum Hill, NewtonNear Boston. Abstract of sample plants for sale, Dated April 20, 1847. Includes a list of plants, but not a description or cataloging of type as in the earlier catalogs.
The changed format of the 1842 catalog allowed for a description of the nursery operations at Nonantum Hill. Instead of one nursery, the catalog says "the nurseries" - an indication that perhaps in fact some aspects of the nurseries were individually owned and operated, but was advertised under one publication. This paragraph was written for marketing purposes, but offers a good description of the history, extent and quality of the nursery operation, including its relationship with European hybridizers and plant collectors. Similar praise for the European hybridizers appears in their 1838/1839 abridgement catalog:
The nurseries of Nonantum Hill are situated in Newton, six miles from the State House in Boston, bordering eastwardly on the line of Brighton, northerly and very near, on the depot of the great Western Railroad. They extend from the low and descending grounds or plain, to the summit of the hill on the westerly side, and are principally devoted to the cultivation of all the most approved and superior varieties of Fruit Trees, and the most hardy and beautiful Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, and Herbaceous Plants. ..In the room of those very numerous varieties in the class of Ancient Pears, which have been cast out as undeserving, I offer the New Class. Nearly all of our finest kinds of the present day are now found amongst them. For their introduction to our country, much is due to the meritorious exertions of numerous of our own citizens. For many of them, of first rate reputation, we are also indebted to the generous donations of Dr. Van Mons, of Belgium, and of the late Mr. Knight, so long the distinguished president of the London Horticultural Society, donations also from the celebrated garden of that Society, of kinds there proved, selections from the immense collections of all countries and climes. These were sent chiefly to the late Hon. John Lowell, to Mr. Manning, and myself. During my visits to England, and to France, in 1840 and 1841 and to the first collections and establishments of those countries, additional selections were made of all that was new and most eminently valuable of hardy Fruits or of highly useful and ornamental productions to the latest day. We have every reason to expect that the numerous varieties thus introduced will prove to our country a treasure."
So substantial were William Kenrick's horticultural contributions, in 1835 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society presented him with a special award for "his successful efforts at procuring scions of new fruits from Europe, and for his valuable treatise on fruit trees."25 William Kenrick was instrumental, with Warren Manning of Salem MA, in obtaining scions of the new fruit varieties coming out of Belgium, France and London. The Van Mons pears, in particular, became the standard for mid 19th century pears. Both John P. Kenrick and William Kenrick exhibited at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society show in 1840. John showed "a variety of food fruit" and won the highest award for roses, with a display of fifty varieties. William exhibited peonies independently from his brother.26 One of their more famous introductions, the Beurre Bosc pear, is still a familiar variety today.
With his younger brother living at the family homestead, William built a mansion on the western slope of Nonantum Hill. Later, railroad millionaire John S. Farlow removed Kendrick's mansion and built an elaborate estate of his own on the property.27
The New American Orchardist, 1833 This same year (1833) William Kenrick publishes The New American Orchardist, or An Account of the Most Valuable Varieties of Fruit, of all Climates, Adapted to Cultivation in the United States, with their History, Modes of Culture, Management, Uses, &c. (Boston: Carter, Hendee and Company). The book became a horticultural standard and underwent several subsequent editions. In 1835 the second edition was published under the same title "Enlarged and Improved" and included chapters on the culture of silk, and an appendix on Vegetables, Ornamental Trees, Shrubs and Flowers. (Boston: Russell, Odiorne and Metcalf and George C. Barrett. 1835). A total of eight editions were published.
The second edition (1835) was prepared after his first visit to Europe, and therefore included his information on the new pear and fruit varieties he brought back with him. The fourth, fifth and sixth editions were reprints of his third edition, again updated with the latest cultivated fruit varieties from both sides of the Atlantic. The seventh edition was again revised "with very particular attention and caremany improvements will be found, and many additions, particularly in regard to fruitsDuring the visits of the author (to England and France) in the autumn of 1840 and the years 1841-42, much information was collected."28
Books on fruit and "orcharding" were not new in 1833. In addition to fruit references in almanacs and guides on husbandry and other forms of agriculture, written and published in American since the eighteenth century, the first book entirely dedicated to fruit and fruit production was written by William Forsyth (New York: 1802) entitled A Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees. Edited by writer William Cobbett, the book was originally written for British gardeners and adapted with notes and comments by Cobbett for the American audience.
William Coxe, who operated his own well-known nursery near Burlington New Jersey, published the first entirely American work on pomology, entitled A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees (Philadelphia: 1817).
Not as well received, was another book on fruits, written by Massachusetts physician and Revolutionary patriot James Thacher in 1822 and republished in 1825 entitled The American Orchardist.
Beginning in 1828, William Robert Prince, whose family operated the Prince Nursery, wrote a number of books on horticulture and fruit culture. Shortly before the publication of Kenrick's book, Prince wrote The Pomological Manual (New York: 1831 and 1832). Written in two volumes, this book was one of the first to contain full and accurate descriptions of the know varieties of hardy tree fruits except the apple, though much of the writing seems to have been derived from earlier British publications on fruits.29
Book antiquarian Elisabeth Woodburn, who wrote an appendix to U.P. Hedrick's History of Horticulture in America, calls William Kenrick's The New American Orchardist one of the most valuable fruit books in the third decade of the nineteenth century. As she writes, "the book was particularly valuable because of its accurate descriptions of varieties adapted to the Atlantic seaboard from Canada to Florida."30
In 1838, Salem Massachusetts nurseryman and friend of William Kenrick's, Robert Manning, published his own work on fruits, entitled Book of Fruits (later editions were enlarged and edited by others and re-titled The New England Fruit Book (1844) and The New England Book of Fruits (1847). Manning chose to offer a descriptive catalog of the most valuable fruits for New England culture, and his work was considered the best authority on the topic until Andrew Jackson Downing's book on fruits, published in 1845.
The Mulberry Mania One of the many agricultural sprees experienced in America was the "Mulberry Mania," which raged from 1825, when the first large-scale mulberry orchards were planted, to 1844, when a cold winter destroyed the last of the plantations. Long Island was at the heart of the mulberry culture, but trees were planted out from Maine to South Carolina, and as far west as the settled frontier. Efforts to produce silk began as early as 1621 in Jamestown, but for the first 200 years in this country, the Asiatic mulberry was not available - a species which produced the highest yields and best quality of silk thread in the silk worms. In 1824, the French brought this tree, Morus multicaulis, from the Philippines into Europe. It was said that the tree had come to the Philippines from China, where its large leaves, fast growth and ability to throw sprouts from its base made it ideal for the silk worm industry.
In 1826 William Prince imported the tree to their nursery and began its propagation and distribution. The trees grew like weeds and were readily adapted to the New World. At last, it seemed, the silk industry might flourish in America. In 1825, the United States Congress passed an act that encouraged the cultivation of the mulberry and the manufacture of silk. The Secretary of the Treasury prepared an illustrated manual (220 pages) on silk and prepared it for distribution in February, 1828. In August of that same year the U.S. Senate published and distributed another treatise on the subject. Federal government interest in the topic spurned state legislatures to encourage the same, and several specific acts on the mulberry tree cultivation and silk industry were passed at the state level. For two decades, silk culture became the chief topic of conversation, politically, economically, and agriculturally.
The American Silk Grower's Guide, 1835 It is into this environment that William Kendrick pursued the cultivation of four species of mulberry at his nursery, and encouraged, through careful research and writing, an "American system" of cultivation and production of silk cocoons. Between the years 1828 and 1844, no fewer than eighteen books (some running into several editions) were published. The country supported four monthly magazines on mulberries and silk.
In 1835, Kenrick published his American Silk Grower's Guide (Boston: George C. Barrett). This guide was originally to be published as part of the second edition of The New American Orchardist, but over the last summer, Kenrick had done extensive research on the silk industry and its adaptation to America, with the result that this material expanded his earlier writings and was sufficient to require the publication of this separate volume. Kenrick included some information about the silk industry in some of his Nursery catalogs; his 1838/39 abridged catalog includes a reprint of the main points of his book. William Kenrick was clearly enamored with the potential of the silk industry in America. His work included very specific instructions for building the barns to house the silk worms, a thorough discussion of the types of trees to grow and how to grow them, and a description of the many kinds of mulberry trees available and their primary agricultural or horticultural assets.
In his book, Kenrick documents the workings of experimental silk farms in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. As he states in his introduction: "During a recent tour, I have not failed to visit the new and extensive silk establishments, which have so lately arisen in Rhode island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. For here only it was that I expected to find the main principles of some of the best systems, adopted in practice; systems plain and simple, and stripped of the garb of mystery. Much, also, I have added from other and numerous sources, which I have examined with critical care." Kenrick Nurseries and the Mulberry Industry, 1831-1845
The Kenrick Nursery offered 4 varieties of mulberries in 1831, some listed under their fruit tree collection (for mulberry fruit and mulberry wine) and others under their ornamental tree collection. (By 1842, however, the Nursery offered only the white mulberry (Morus multicaulis sinensis) as an ornamental tree). Kendrick must have been aware of the concern for plant hardiness. As Kenrick writes in his description for the white mulberry, "Morus multicaulis was introduced to New England in 1831 and the tree had to contend with two very difficult winters such as were never before recorded in the memory of manOn the Northern declivity of Nonantum Hill, and in the bleakest position, I left exposed last autumn the young trees of the Morus multicaulis; the tops with no protection; - nature's covering of herbage, their only defense at the roots; thus situated they have born the winter well."31 Kenrick carefully records other similar observations on plant hardiness and its adaptability to all of New England, from Maine to southern Connecticut. As of 1835, the prospects for silk culture were excellent as far as William Kendrick could see.
Everywhere the peach could be grown, mulberry trees were planted. Every nursery in America offered mulberry trees for sale. At the peak of its speculation, one-year-old mulberries sold for $2 to $5 each; for several years the supply was far less than the demand. There is record of some nurserymen who grew 30,000 trees on a single acre yielding a profit of $30,000 on their efforts.
The mania drew to an abrupt and unexpected close, taking many in its downturn, William Kenrick among them. Two uncontrollable natural phenomena brought the speculation to a close: a severe winter killed many young plantations of trees, and a disease impossible to control appeared and destroyed the trees even in the milder climates. The trees are very tender during their early years, and seem better adapted to extreme cold temperatures as they get older. In his book, William Kendrick encouraged growers to cover the one and two-year-old trees with soil to protect them during their first winters. The winter of 1838 brought such severe temperatures that many emerging plantations were hit badly. In the summer of 1839, disease took those trees that had survived the winter cold. By autumn of 1839, the entire speculative market had collapsed, and by the spring of 1840, trees were begging for purchase at a penny apiece. Finally, another cold winter in 1844 wiped out the remaining plantations in the North, and the mulberry mania was over.32
Excited about the financial prospects of producing silk, Kenrick had purchased a Mulberry plantation. The project, however, was a failure, and Kenrick was forced to subdivide and sell some of his nursery land at auction in 1845.
The subdivision consisted of 42 lots known as Woodland Vale. It was laid out by Alexander Wadsworth, designer of Mount Auburn Cemetery and another colleague from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The subdivision was described in 1889 as "a beautiful oval reservation, thickly covered with ancient oaks, beeches and chestnut-trees, and surrounded by pleasant country houses." The oval at the center of the project was given to the City of Newton as a public park.33
Closing of the William Kenrick Nursery, 1850 According to Robert Manning Jr., historian for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, William Kenrick closed his nursery in 1850, after a span of twenty seven years, during which he "imported and disposed of more fruit trees, probably, than any other nurseryman in New England, besides a large number of ornamental trees."34 As an appendix to this paper, I have included a list of the ornamental trees and shrubs offered for sale by the nursery in 1831, a sampling of fruit varieties offered for the same year, a list of perennials available for sale in 1832, and a list of the plants offered for auction in 1844. This list is only a small part of the entire nursery collection, but provides some reference to the scope and content of the nursery between 1831 and 1844. For a more in-depth study of the nursery collection, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society library seed catalog collection is a good resource. (accessible only by special appointment).
Kenrick Family Land, 1850-1880 The Agricultural Census records for 1850 are faded and difficult to read. If the listings can be correctly interpreted, it seems that William Kenrick held 53 acres of land, with a cash value of $61,000. His brother, John Kenrick owned 85 acres of land, with a cash value totaling $41,000. John Kenrick must have been running a more substantial fruit operation, since much of his farm value is listed as orchard products ($420). Nurseries do not fall into an easy to value category for these census records, which were more interested in the value of traditional farm production.
In 1856 William Kenrick retired. His younger brother, John A. Kenrick, continued to operate the nursery under the name "Nonantum Dale Nursery."35 By 1860 William Kenrick is no longer listed in the agricultural census records, and his brother's land holdings were reduced by 15 acres to a "farm" totally 70 acres. In 1872 William Kenrick died. In the 1880 agricultural census, John Kenrick's farm operation dwindled significantly - a mere 30 acres.36
When King's Handbook of Newton was published in 1889, Nonantum Hill had experienced a tremendous population growth. In 1860, according to the handbook, Nonantum Hill was spotted with only a few farmhouses, and "land was worth hardly $500 an acre, where now it would command thirty times that sum."37 The handbook goes on to state, "Kenrick's nurseries and farm of sixty-seven acres here included the finest collection in America of fruit and ornamental trees; and the results of his experiments in grafting, transplanting, etc., were recorded in his work, entitled "The New American Orchardist." The house was subsequently moved away to Woodland Vale; and its site is now occupied by the beautiful mansion of the Hon. John S. Farlow, near Waverley Avenue, overlooking the great valley to the westward. Besides the most notable variety of trees and shrubbery in the country, the Farlow estate has large conservatories, farmlands, and a garden, stretching well up along the hill.Kenrick Park, a little way to the westward, was laid out in 1845 by Alexander Wadsworth, for William Kenrick, and then bore the name of Woodland Vale. Forty house-lots were sold here at auction, on a pleasant June day of 1845, Colonel Marshall P. Wilder, Elias Hasket Derby, and other gentlemen of Boston standing for references. It is now a beautiful oval reservation, thickly covered with ancient oaks, beeches, and chestnut-trees, and surrounded by pleasant country-houses. Just beyond Kenrick Street, which descends the deep vale between Nonantum Hill and Waban Hill, stands the venerable colonial mansion of the Kenricks, with its odd little Gothic summer-house.The estate is famous for its noble magnolia trees, which bring forth thousands of fragrant blossoms every May, filling the glen with a rich exotic perfume. Nearly opposite the house are several of the finest purple beeches in New England . . . ."38
Summary, Kenrick Family Era, 1790-1872 The King's Handbook description of both properties, excerpted from a much longer narrative in the Handbook, is filled with some inaccuracies, but nevertheless describes an important transformation on Nonantum Hill in the mid to late nineteenth century. Started on open farmland in the 1790's, perched at the edge of a fine, emerging village of homes and businesses, the Kenrick Nurseries gradually transformed the western side of Nonantum Hill and Dale with exotic, imported fruit and ornamental trees. As the Nursery aged, and eventually ended, the trees that were left behind provided an attractive setting for the large estate suburb that developed here. Kenrick Park and its surrounding subdivision were filled with mature oaks, beeches and chestnuts - all species featured in the Kenrick Nursery catalogs. Alexander Wadsworth designed the subdivision of the William Kenrick Nursery to take best advantage of both the topography and the plant collections which remained. It is possible that the greenhouse complex at the Farlow estate may have been the remains of William Kenrick's nursery houses.
Though John Kenrick's Nonantum Dale Nursery survived his brother's operation by twenty years, it nevertheless offered the same attractive transformation of the landscape. Subdivision of this property was more random than the Wadsworth plan, and today many of the lots are much smaller, yet the bulk of his land remains the basis for the beauty of the Newton Country Club, which occupies a significant portion of the former Kenrick property. Today large beeches, oaks and other trees remain extant throughout the turn-of-the-century neighborhood that emerged here. The Farlow house remains atop Nonantum Hill, though a twentieth century neighborhood has grown up around the Victorian house. As with the John Kenrick property, large mature trees grace the entire neighborhood, and the street patterns from here down the hillside to Kenrick Park reflect the earlier Wadsworth neighborhood design.
Transition, 1872-1903 After the death of John A. Kenrick, his heirs sold his property in a progressive series of land transactions between 1872 and 1903. Small parcels were divided off of the property along Waverly Avenue and Kenrick Avenue and this parceling continued into the central portions of the farm as the years progressed. The largest parcel was eventually purchased and developed as part of the Newton Country Club in the early twentieth century. Between 1895 and 1907 a house was constructed next to the Durant-Kenrick house, at the corner of Waverly Avenue and Kenrick Avenue. The house was originally owned by Florence L. Haley (1907), then by Mabelle Simpson (1917), and eventually (1929) by the Meganson Sturces Corporation. This lot, currently owned by the Durant Homestead Foundation includes only the foundation remains and walkway of the former dwelling.
The Holden/Dewing Era, 1903-1985
In 1903, Austin Holden acquired the John Kenrick property from the Kenrick heirs. After a couple of subsequent transactions, Arthur S. Dewing purchased the property from the Durant family in 1923, and restored the property as per an agreement with Mr. Durant.39 At this time the extent of the property associated with the house was barely 2 acres - the equivalent of two neighborhood houselots. Changes to the property celebrated the earliest history of the house and added amenities included spaces and places for twentieth century family life.
The Dewings added a garage in 1925, and a Garden House in the late 1920's which served as both a playhouse and space for folk dancing. Another small playhouse, constructed of old furniture crates, was added by the Dewing children at about the same time. In 1971 Mr. Dewing died, and the family established the Durant Homestead in 1985, at which time the Garden House and playhouse were removed.40
The Durant-Kenrick Property Today
A comparison of the 1870's era maps for Newton, and the 2006 City of Newton Assessment maps, reveals both the extent and transformation of the Kenrick property into the twentieth century. Here is its easy to walk the City streets today and understand the property boundaries of the Kenrick Nurseries at the end of their life span. It remains to be seen (with more research) the full extent of their nursery operation in both Brighton and Newton.
Often, property subdivisions follow earlier established boundaries. Such is the case here, where the 1874 map is compared with the 2006 map. (see the following page) The yellow lot is the site of the Durant Kenrick Homestead. The areas outlined in yellow indicate the extent of land owned by the Heirs of John A. Kenrick in 1874 - the last vestiges of the Kenrick family lands.
Similarly, the original bounds of the William Kenrick Nursery, and the later Wadsworth subdivision for Woodland Dale are easily traced. Though more property research is necessary to determine the extent of both properties, the road patterns and subdivision patterns reveal a lot about the neighborhood and its history.
Similarly, the rich diversity of plant species that began with one man's interest in horticulture, have grown, thrived, procreated and survived into a new century.
Plant Materials Today some of the plant material featured in the Kenrick catalogs remains, in both first and second generation plantings, surrounding the Durant-Kenrick Homestead. The most magnificent plant in the collection is the huge Copper Beech near the corner of Kenrick and Waverley Avenues. Just as magnificent, are the surrounding trees which shelter the beech: Norway Spruce, White Oak, Red Oak - all equal in size and significance to the beech itself. Closer to the house, seedlings of former nursery stock mix with other intentional plantings, both old and new, to offer testament to the rich horticultural history that once surrounded this home. Here seedlings of European Beech, Mulberry, Hickory, Sycamore Maple, Sugar Maple, Pears, Tulip Trees, Goldenchain Tree, Elm, and others mix with larger Norway Maples, Crabapples and Flowering Dogwoods to create a tapestry of horticultural history.
- Marchione p 2. (Back)
- Grady, Ann unpublished manuscript research notes. 2006 (Back)
- Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower (New York: Viking 2006) p. 186 (Back)
- Inventory of Edward Durant (d. 1740) Probate docket # 6545 (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- Deed, William Fisher to John Kenrick. 1790. Book 102, page 377-8 (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- John Fisher to John Kenrick Jr. 1791. Book 105, page 39 (Back)
- Marchione, William P. . "Of Horticulture and Antislavery: the Kenricks of Newton" republished by the Brighton Allston Historical Society on their website visited 4/20/2006 at www.bahistory.org/HistoryJohn Kenrick.html. This same quote appears in a typed manuscript written by Dorothy S. Manks, Former Librarian for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society entitled "William Kenrick, his contribution to Early American Horticulture" (n.d.) (Back)
- Hedrick, U.P. History of Horticulture in America (2nd ed. Portland OR: Timber Press. 1988) p. 209 (Back)
- Hedrick. P. 209 (Back)
- Annual Catalogue of Fruit and Hardy Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, &c. cultivated and for sale at the Kenrick Nurseries, in Newton , Near Boston, 1831. A Liberal Discount from the Retail prices on every kind of trees, will be made by the hundred. Boston: printed by I.R. Butts. 1831. (Back)
- Marchione and Manks. (Back)
- Hedrick p. 210 (Back)
- Manks, Dorothy. Quoted from U.P. Hedrick The Peaches of New York. (Albany, NY: State Department of Agriculture, 1917 (24th annual report, v. 2, pt II, page 57). (Back)
- Marchione p. 2 (Back)
- Hedrick p. 209 (Back)
- Marchione p. 2 and Hedrick p. 210 (Back)
- Marchione, William P. "Of Horticulture and Antislavery: the Kenricks of Newton" republished by the Brighton Allston Historical Society on their website visited 4/20/2006 at www.bahistory.org/HistoryJohn Kenrick.html (Back)
- Marchione p. 2 (Back)
- Kenrick, William, The American Silk Grower's Guide; or the Art of Raising the Mulberry and silk on the System of Successive Crops in Each Season by William Kenrick. Boston: George C. Barrett New York: George C. Thorburn. 1835. Advertisements listed on pages at the end of the publication. (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- Marchione p. 2 (Back)
- Inventory of John Kenrick. 1832. Copy supplied by Ann Grady. (Back)
- Marchione p. 2 (Back)
- Manks as quoted from the archives of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society . Transactions 1839-1841. pages 42, 51. (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- Kenrick, William. New American Orchardist "Advertisement" page 5, seventh edition. (Back)
- Woodburn, Elisabeth, appendix to U.P. Hedrick's History of Horticulture in America (Portland OR: Timber Press 1988) p. 479-482)
- Ibid. p. 482 (Back)
- Kenrick, William, American Silk Growers Guide (1835) (Back)
- Hedick p. 216-218 (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- Manks quoted from the History of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. 1878. page 34 (Back)
- Willian Marchione writes that in 1829 James Warren of Brighton started Nonantum Vale Gardens where Warren was honored with various Medals and Awards from the Boston Society for the Promotion of Agriculture for his horticultural endeavors. Marchione lists the Kenrick nursery as "Nonantum Dale Gardens," while Grady found the name in other publications as "Nonantum Dale Nursery." We should check on the similarity of names for both these nurseries, since they are written of with enthusiasm for the quality of their horticultural collections. (Back)
- U.S. Agricultural census records for Newton, Middlesex County, for the years 1850, 1860 and 1870. (Back)
- Sweetser, M.F. King's Handbook of Newton. (Boston: Moses King Corp. 1889) p. 104 (Back)
- Sweetser p. 110 (Back)
- Grady (Back)
- Grady, typed manuscript and email (Back)